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The Athlete's Guide to Exercise-Induced Asthma

Exercise-induced asthma shouldn't keep you from working out. Here's how to keep your symptoms under control.

Is it Exercise-Induced Asthma?

Are you really experiencing exercise-induced asthma, or is it chronic asthma in disguise?

"It depends, and that's one of the difficulties," says Craig. "Does a person truly have exercise-induced asthma, or is their asthma unstable and just manifesting with exercise?"

It might be chronic asthma if your asthma symptoms continue to flare after taking albuterol, or if they are triggered by things like cigarette smoke and pet dander.

"If the effects of albuterol only last for a short while, you may have underlying significant inflammation and not realize it," says Craig. "That means you have poorly controlled asthma, and you need to be seen by a physician and possibly be on an anti-inflammatory agent on a regular basis."

Sports for Avoiding Exercise-Induced Asthma

When it comes to exercise-induced asthma, warmer is better.
"It seems to be associated with mainly people who are, for instance, skaters in cold, dry areas, or skiers doing really excessive exercise in a cold and dry environment," says Craig. "The cold and dry air is one of the greatest stimuli for inducing bronchospasm."

Along with cold-weather activity, sports with sustained periods of running or exertion are more likely to trigger exercise-induced asthma. They include:

  • Soccer
  • Basketball
  • Field hockey
  • Long-distance running
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Hockey

According to the AAAAI, sports that are less likely to trigger exercise-induced asthma symptoms include:

  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Leisure biking
  • Hiking
  • Free downhill skiing
  • Baseball
  • Football
  • Wrestling
  • Golfing
  • Gymnastics
  • Short-distance track and field events

Whatever your sport of choice, exercise-induced asthma -- or even chronic asthma -- is no excuse to park it on the couch.

At the Olympic level,20% of elite athletes have asthma. In fact, at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, 23% of the Olympians were shown to have exercise-induced asthma after testing.

But exercise-induced asthma doesn't have to slow you down. At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, nearly 30% of U.S. Olympians who had asthma or took asthma medications won team or individual medals in competition, performing just as well as non-asthmatic athletes.

Exercise-Induced Asthma: Tips for Kids

Diagnosing exercise-induced asthma in children can be difficult because the symptoms can be subtle.

For instance, kids with exercise-induced asthma might:

  • Complain of not being able to run as fast as their friends.
  • Express a dislike for sports because they can't compete as well as the other kids.
  • Avoid physical activities altogether.

If your child is reluctant to engage in sports or other physical activities, consult your pediatrician.

Treatment of exercise-induced asthma can help keep your child active.

"I don't like to make invalids out of my asthma patients," says Richard Honsinger, MD, of the Los Alamos Medical Care Clinic in New Mexico. "If you have a child who has exercise-induced asthma, work with the teacher and send albuterol to school so your child can be pre-treated with albuterol before they go out to recess. This is often the way to get children to engage in normal activities."

Send a letter to school with the medicine, or schedule a visit with the school nurse, your child's teacher, coach, or gym teacher to discuss important aspects of exercise-induced asthma. These include:

  • The nature of your child's exercise-induced asthma.
  • Medications used to prevent symptoms and how to use them properly.
  • Other techniques to prevent attacks, like warming up before recess.
  • Warning signs of an asthma episode.
  • Contact information in case of emergency, including a phone number for your child's physician.

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